Bees provide an unmatched service to the world as a whole. They are predominantly known for being the most important group of pollinators throughout the world. Without their services, about a third of the crops that we consume would need to be pollinated in some other way. This is one reason why scientists around the world are concerned with the question, "Are bees dying?"
Aside from crops, about 90% of wild plants also require bee pollination to reproduce. This means that entire ecosystems are dependent on bee pollination to survive. Without bee pollination, wild plants will become extinct, and so would the animals that feed on them.
Are Bees Dying?
Simply stated, "Yes!" Bees are dying at an alarming rate. Colonies of thousands are disappearing from existence. This phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder and it exists among domestic bees and wild bees alike. In the U.S. we estimate about 30-40% of all commercial bee colonies have died since 2006. In central Europe, there is an estimated loss of about 25%, and a 54% loss in the UK. China has also seen a significant loss in bee colony populations as has Egypt. All over the globe reports are coming in of great losses.
In some areas of the world, farmers are paying for pollination services, because the natural system of bee pollination is failing. They could be paying upwards of $1500 per acre to have their crops pollinated. Even so, their crops may not produce the same abundance that natural pollination provides.
Why Are Bees Dying?
There are a number of reasons why bees are dying at such an alarming rate. While it is a complex problem, it is not unsolvable. Here are the top 5 reasons why bees are dying.
- Toxic Pesticides and Herbicides
- Toxic Fungicides
- Climate Change
- Loss of Habitat
- Diseases and Parasites
1. Toxic Pesticides and Herbicide
A huge factor negatively impacting bee populations is the application of chemical pesticides (used to kill insects,) and herbicides (used to kill weeds,) applied to most agricultural operations today. Modern-day pesticides and herbicides are heavily laden with toxic chemicals. Once administered, these chemicals are not just found on the surface of the plants, they become absorbed into every part of the plant, including its nectar and pollen. Bees become exposed to the chemicals by feeding on these plants. When the bees return to their hive with nectar for the larvae, the chemicals spread throughout the entire bee colony killing thousands of bees at a time.
2. Toxic Fungicides
Unlike pesticides used to kill insects, fungicides are used to kill molds and mildews. Most Industrial farmers use chemical fungicides on their crops these days, and scientists have recently discovered that fungicides are the strongest factor declining bumblebee populations in the U.S. Until recently, fungicides have been largely overlooked in the quest to answer the question, "Why are bees dying?"
3. Climate Change
Climate change also effects bee populations. As temperatures rise, flowers bloom earlier. This causes a mix-up in the timing of when flowers produce pollen, and when the bees are ready to feed on them.
4. Loss of Habitat
Another huge factor affecting bee populations is their loss of natural habitat due to urbanization. While urbanization directly removes bee habitat, it also causes habitat fragmentation, which isolates or fragments the path in which bees travel. Being isolated makes it harder for bees to mate, and it also limits nesting sites. What's more, the isolation offers less area for bees to feed, reducing their food source.
5. Parasites and Disease
Scientists have found that certain types of parasites become more prevalent when temperatures rise. The rise in temperatures due to climate change has caused an abundance of parasites, resulting in more bees being infected with them.
In addition, since the decline of bee populations, farmers have began renting bee colonies to pollinate their fields. Renting bee colonies involves bringing non-native bees into a new area. When non-native bees are introduced to a new area, they may carry parasites which are easily spread to the native, wild bee populations that already live there. As with any living organism, bees are very susceptible to parasites and diseases. Once infected, bees become sick and often die. The parasites and diseases spread quickly, paying no mind to borders.
What Can We Do?
There are several things we can do to help the bees! A good place to start is at your local grocery store!
Say No to GMO
Genetically modified organisms are seeds which are injected with chemical pesticide and herbicide on a molecular level. These seeds produce plants which are designed to withstand the external application of chemical pesticide and herbicide during the growing cycle. Farmers who grow genetically modified produce apply heavy doses of chemicals to their crops. These operations are so massive in scale that the external application of chemical pesticide and herbicide is often administered with the use of an airplane. It's a major blow to our environment, and also to the struggling bee population.
How to Determine if Produce is GMO
Look at the label on your produce. If it has a 5 digit code and begins with an 8 that means it is genetically modified.
Say No to Conventional Produce
While conventional produce is not genetically modified, it has been grown with chemical pesticides and herbicides. Also massive in scale, these operations do not use sustainable farming practices, and they are equally bad for the environment and for our bee friends too!
How to Determine if Produce is Conventional
Look at the label on your produce. If it has a 4 digit code that means it was conventionally grown.
Say Yes to Organic
There are many reasons why choosing organic produce is a better option. One of the main reasons is that organic produce is grown without the use of harmful chemical pesticides and herbicides, and organic farmers use only sustainable farming practices. Organic produce has a higher nutritional value than GMO or conventional produce, and it's also better for the environment! Organic farmers love bees and bees love organic farms!
How to Determine if Produce is Organic
Look at the label on your produce. If it has a 5 digit code and begins with a 9 that means it was grown organically.
Buy Local Raw Honey
Making smart choices when purchasing honey helps the bees a lot. Get to know your local beekeepers so you can ensure they are using sustainable beekeeping practices.
Start Your Own Organic Garden
Whether it's a vegetable garden or flower garden, you will provide blooms that the bees can feed from. When choosing your plants, make sure they are organically grown, native plants that are natural to your region. Not plants that will become invasive and take over other native species. Choose a diverse selection that will offer a variety for the bees to feed on throughout the year, not just through certain periods.
But Don't Pull the Weeds
Many weeds are an excellent source of food for bees! In the spring, they are often the only viable source of food for them!
Leave Some Areas to Nature
It is understandable to want a perfectly manicured yard, but nature offers to bees what mankind cannot. Having a natural landscape offers the bees more variety in foods and provides more options for nesting. Not all bees live in large colonies. Some live solitary lives within the ground. If we cover every inch of our properties with concrete, asphalt, or non-blooming grass, we leave no where for the bees to live and survive.
Incorporate a Small Water Basin Into Your Yard
Even if you only have a small balcony, incorporating a small water basin will provide a cool drink for the bees on a warm day. By adding a few stones to the water, you will be provide a safe place for them to drink from, and they won't accidentally drown.
Start a Hive or Colony of Your Own
It may sound a bit daunting but it's really quite simple. You don't have to raise honeybees which are the most time consuming type of bees to keep. There are hundreds of other bee species that are native to your area. And without your help, those numbers could vanish quickly. Investing in a bee block, a pre-made wooden block with holes for bees to nest in, will provide a space for the bees to live.
By educating yourself about bees, you will gain a better understanding of them, and learn the many ways to respect them.
While some are wary of bees and they fear being stung by them, the threat of bee extinction is far greater and has a devastating impact on all of us. We simply cannot afford to let bees disappear. They provide a service which is greatly needed throughout the world by humans and also the animal kingdom.
The small things we do on a day-to-day basis have a big impact over time. Understanding bees and the severity of bee extinction is the first step toward helping the struggling bee population. In time, others will take notice of your actions and want to do their part too. As an individual, you can do a lot, but together we can change the world for the better. Hopefully, in the near future, we will be able to answer the question, "Are bees dying?", with a resounding no.